Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Boys and their toys… I’ve again been driving a large tractor today and, even larger and more exciting: a combine-harvester! However, I have to admit that I’m less of an expert in driving these modern agricultural behemoths than Tristan, 13-year-old nephew of our pig farming neighbours Paul and Christiane. As you can see by the width of his smile in the photo above, Tristan is happy.

Paul and I started just after lunch, after he’d sent an unnecessarily wordy text, “c’est sec”, which was to say that the sun had burnt the dew off and thus the wheat was ready to harvest and would I join him. I’d borrowed Paul’s trailer to collect another two Ouessant ewes yesterday and, when returning it today, I picked up a couple of sacks of mixed cereal feed (which we give to our chickens, geese and pigs) so I was happy to return the favour and spend the afternoon helping to bring in the harvest. Tristan’s mum, Valerie, had dropped him off halfway through the afternoon, and when I returned to the field, having unloaded a trailer-load of wheat back at the farm, I found not Paul but Tristan in the driving seat of the combine harvester. Paul explained the French expression, “Le roi n'est pas son cousin”, which took a couple of goes before I understood it to mean that Tristan was happier or prouder than a King. I then explained what I thought was an appropriate English version to describe Tristan’s emotions: “he’s as happy (or happier) than a pig in shit” or “aussi heureux qu’un cochon dans la merde”, which raised a big smile from Paul, him being a pig farmer and all that!

Maybe 13 is a little old to be still playing with toy tractors but it’s years away from playing with the real thing for most boys. I’m really impressed with Tristan, who seems very mature for his age, whilst still possessing the charm of a happy kid. It seems that precisely because he’s given responsibility that he can cope with that he rises to the challenge. He is not yet old enough to be allowed to drive the tractor on the road but he drives it better than I do on the field! And yesterday, so Paul recounted, he used a tractor and machinery to bale cut straw and stack it in the barn at home (his parents Loïc and Valerie are dairy farmers) all on is own.

Perhaps because he is given these responsibilities, he has to reflect on things and thus enjoys participating in adult conversation. It just makes me wonder how many more boys and girls could have their surprising potential unlocked given supportive parents and the right opportunities.
So I say “chapeau” to Tristan, which is to say, “I take my hat off to him”.

Away from industrial farming and without me distracting her, Gabrielle spent the day planting out coriander, basil, pak choi and parsley; cutting nettles to make nettle tea (turning “weeds” into plant fertiliser) not forgetting to call her mum to wish her happy anniversary; dealing with enquiries for our gite; making some papier maché puppets on a Breton theme AND had a lovely meal of herb-stuffed fresh mackerel and a bottle of fridge-cold French Sauvignon ready for when I rolled in at about 8pm this evening: little surprise that I'm marrying this woman in September!.